Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and Seeds provide a powerhouse of nutrition

Seeds and nuts are popular foods in many diets, often as snacks, but in most vegetarian eating plans, they are staples. These nutrient-dense powerhouses provide protein, fiber, healthy fats, enzymes and a number of vitamins and minerals. They can be eaten whole, in “butters” or used to replace meat in many recipes. Nut creams and nut milks can be used to make sauces or in smoothies.

Keep them cool

Store seeds and nuts in a cool, dry place in an airtight container. Since nuts and seeds have a high unsaturated fat content, they are subject to turning rancid if not handled properly. Nuts in the shell will keep longer than shelled nuts, but they are not as convenient to use.

In the raw

Whenever possible, the best way to eat most nuts and seeds is raw, since they retain the highest level of enzymes and other nutritional value that way. However, roasted nuts can still be nutritious, especially if you roast them yourself with a minimum of added fat and salt. Raw nuts may be easier to digest than roasted ones due to the enzymatic activity of raw foods.

Interesting Fact about Nuts and Seeds: Cashews are generally not eaten raw due to a toxic substance in the oil of the shells that can get into the nuts. Roasting solves this problem, so cashews are usually eaten roasted. The cashew tree is in the same family as poison ivy, and the oil in the shells of cashews may have the same effect as poison ivy does on some people.

Grind as you go

Seeds should be purchased whole and ground fresh, since they begin to deteriorate as soon as they are ground and are more likely to become rancid that way. You can use a small coffee grinder to grind seeds, as needed. Although “meal” made from ground seeds is available, whole seeds that you grind yourself are a better choice.

Varieties of nuts and seeds that can form part of a healthy diet:

Almond–an oval-shaped nut that, in its sweet form is popular as a snack, as a flavoring, as part of cereals and as an ingredient in recipes, especially desserts and garnishes; readily available in more forms (in-the-shell, shelled whole, sliced, slivered, blanched and paste) than any other nut; high in protein, fiber and minerals, particularly calcium, and a good source of B vitamins; related to peaches, cherries and plums.

--Caveat for Nuts and Seeds: There is also a variety of almond called “bitter almonds” that are toxic when eaten. Since, as the name implies, they have a bitter taste, you are not likely to confuse the two, should you actually eat a bitter almond! The oil from bitter almonds can be used for non-edible purposes.

-Almond recipe idea: To add extra flavor, texture and nutrition, garnish salads, green vegetables, casseroles, or hot cereals with sliced almonds.

Brazil nut – a large, high-fat nut, native to the Amazon region; grows in clusters and has a hard brown shell; rich in minerals such as selenium.

For more information on Selenium, click here.

Fun Fact for Nuts and Seeds: Brazil nuts have so much fat in them, they will burn like little candles when lit! They are hard to light, and you probably wouldn’t want to waste a good nutritious food in this way, but in a pinch, who knows? Actually, the empty pods of Brazil nuts are often filled with wax and sold as candles, which seems a much wiser use of resources.

-Brazil nut recipe idea: You can use sliced Brazil nuts in place of, or along with, water chestnuts in recipes or to add crunch to salads. 

You can also make nut butter from Brazil nuts by combining 1 and 1/2 cups nuts with about 4 Tablespoons of oil in your food processor. You may add some good quality salt to taste, if you wish.

Cashew – a tan-colored, half-moon shaped nut; native to South America; not sold in the shell due to a toxic irritant in the oil of the shells; eaten roasted rather than raw; higher in carbohydrate and lower in fat than other nuts; rich in protein, minerals, B vitamins and fiber.

Fun Fact for Nuts and Seeds: Cashews grow on a tree and are really the “seed” of a type of “apple” fruit that is very popular in areas of South America where they grow. However, this cashew apple is so perishable that it can only be enjoyed fresh from the tree and thus cannot be shipped to other parts of the world.

-Cashew recipe idea:  Cashews may be used to make nut butter by combining 1 and 1/2 cups nuts with about 4 Tablespoons of oil in your food processor. You may add some good quality salt, to taste, if you wish.

chia seed

Chia seed – a tiny seed that was popular in ancient times, but is regaining popularity as a “super food”; may be black or white in color; high in Omega-3 fatty acids; facilitates calcium absorption; high in fiber. 

-Chia seed recipe ideas: Sprinkle one tablespoon chia seeds on yogurt, cereal, soups, salads, even ice cream. 

Make a gel from chia seeds plus water (8:1 ratio), stirring mixture after one minute and refrigerating it up to two weeks. Use gel to replace half of the fat in baked goods, such as muffins, cookies, brownies and pancakes or add to yogurt, puddings, etc. to increase nutrition without changing flavor.

Click here for more information on chia seed.

Interesting Fact about Nuts and Seeds: Chia seeds were widely used in ancient times by the Aztecs in Central America. Although their efficacy as an energy food was undeniable, according to one account, the European conquerors sent some home to Spain, but they did not catch on as a food with the Spanish people of that time.

Coconut – fruit of the tropical coconut palm tree; “meat” and “milk” are used for food; oil is used both in edible products such as baked goods, and inedible products such as soap; good source of vitamins and minerals; considered a “super food” by some alternative health practitioners; oil from the coconut is one of the few plant oils that is saturated.

-Coconut recipe ideas: Add unsweetened, grated coconut to breakfast cereals, yogurt and baked goods for extra nutrition, texture and flavor. You can generally substitute unsweetened, grated coconut for sweetened coconut in cookie recipes, since there is usually enough sugar in the recipe already. 

Coconut can also be made into flour, which is gluten-free and can be used to replace part of the flour in baked goods. Keep in mind that coconut flour is more dense than other flours, so use sparingly to avoid a heavy finished product.

Interesting Fact about Nuts and Seeds: Some health experts consider coconut as a “super food” due to certain properties it possesses. Since there is disagreement on this issue and since coconut does contain saturated fat with all its implications, we may have to wait for more research to be sure. In the meantime, using natural, unsweetened coconut, a whole food, as part of your diet seems reasonable.

Flaxseed – small golden or brown seed from the flax plant used as food as far back as ancient Greece and Rome; high in fiber and Omega-3 oils; oil may be used as an Omega-3 supplement for vegetarians instead of fish oil; excellent source of lignans, fiber that helps lower cholesterol.

-Flaxseed recipe idea: Freshly ground flaxseed can be sprinkled on cereal, salads and used to replace up to 1/2 cup flour in recipes for baked goods such as breads, muffins, cookies and pancakes.

Interesting Facts about Nuts and Seeds: The flax plant, a plant with blue flowers, is used to make linen fabric. It is the seeds that are used for food, and which have recently attained the status of “super food” in some circles. 

Click here for additional information about flax seed.

Macadamia - Macadamia nut is the seed of the macadamia tree. Although they are grown commercially in Hawaii, California and Florida, Macadamia nuts are native to Australia. They are usually eaten roasted as a snack, but some people use them as “medicine” to improve cholesterol.*

Hazelnut (Filberts) – small round, reddish-brown nut, widely grown in Europe and Asia; high in mono-unsaturated fats;good source of minerals and Vitamins A, B and E; also called cobnuts.

Peanut– not really a nut, but a legume; as a food they are used more like nuts in butters and for snacks; good source of the B vitamin, niacin; provide protein and energy; grow underground; member of the pea family.

Interesting Fact about Nuts and Seeds: African Americans first made peanuts popular in the South, and in fact, peanuts are often called “goobers”, which comes from an African Kikongo word, nguba. It has been suggested that peanuts replaced cotton as a cash crop in the South when the cotton crop was devastated by the boll weevil pest.

peanut butter fudge

-Peanut recipe ideas: Peanuts can be used in main courses as well as desserts. 

Click here for Peanut Butter Fudge recipe. 

Pecan – native North American nut with thin, smooth brown shell and lobed “meat”; related to walnuts and hickory nuts, with a richer flavor; good source of Vitamin E, potassium and protein; may have cholesterol-lowering properties. 

-Pecan recipe ideas: Add to cereal, salads, yogurt or smoothies for extra nutrition; May be used to make Baklava. 

Pine nut – cream-colored, sweet-tasting seed from certain pine trees that grow in southwestern U.S and Mexico; also called pignolia and pinon nuts; common in Mediterranean diet; may be a digestive aid and appetite suppressant; good source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals; also imported from Europe and Asia.

-Pine nut recipe ideas: Pine nuts are great on salads and are used in pesto sauces for Italian dishes.

Fun Facts about Nuts and Seeds: Pine nuts are the seeds hidden in the pine cones of pine trees. They are popular with songbirds who harvest them from the pine cones with their beaks and even store them for future consumption. Sometimes these storage depots are not used and end up sprouting and producing new trees. Native Americans also used pine nuts as a staple in their diet, often for grinding into flour.

Pistachio – bright green nut with a buff-colored shell (sometimes dyed red); native to the Europe and Asia; popular as a snack and ingredient in sweets; rich in antioxidants and minerals; may have cholesterol-lowering qualities; member of the sumac family.

Interesting Fact about Nuts and Seeds: It used to be the practice to dye pistachios red to make them more attractive and uniform in color. With better ways to pick and sort the nuts, this practice of dying them red has become less common. No more telltale scarlet fingers from shelling pistachios!

Pumpkin seed – flat, oval-shaped, green seed (covered with a whitish coat) from pumpkins; high in minerals, especially zinc; may contribute to prostate health and be anti-inflammatory; sometimes called pepitas.

Fun Fact for Nuts and Seeds: Many people buy pumpkins to use the flesh for pies, etc., but throw away the seeds. However, the seeds can be roasted for a tasty, nutritious treat. Simmer washed, raw pumpkin seeds in salted water for about 10 minutes. Spread seeds on pan oiled with olive oil and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, stir and re-spread seeds and bake another 5-10 minutes or until golden brown.

Sesame seed – tiny, oval-shaped seed that is commonly used for its oil and on top of rolls and buns; rich in copper and manganese; good source of lignans, fiber that helps lower cholesterol; also used in Halva (sweetened) and Tahini (butter); their use dates back to ancient times.

Sesame seed recipe ideas: Sprinkle sesame seeds on your homemade breads for extra texture, nutrition and eye-appeal.

Interesting Fact about Nuts and Seeds: The light-colored sesame seeds that you see on commercial products, such as rolls and buns, may have had their hulls removed. Sesame seeds that have not been hulled can be white, brown, red or black.

Sunflower seed – small seed that is gray when hulled; used for its oil and as food; good source of Vitamin E, magnesium and selenium; may help lower cholesterol and high blood pressure; comes in larger, striped hull or smaller, black hull varieties.

-Sunflower seed recipe idea: Sprinkle sunflower seeds on salads and add them to bread and homemade granola for extra nutrition. They also make a great snack all by themselves. 

Click here for homemade granola recipe.

Fun Fact: Sunflower seeds are a popular food for backyard bird feeders. They are a high-energy food that many birds, such as cardinals, chickadees and nuthatches find a tasty treat. If seeds are dropped around the feeder, you may find yourself with some of the tall stalks and bright flowers of sunflower plants, since the seeds can easily germinate and grow.

Walnuts – a large, brown nut with a rough shell and lobed “meat”; loaded with heart-healthy fats; help to lower cholesterol; good source of fiber, Vitamin E, protein and minerals; good source of Omega-3 fats; may be found in English and Black varieties.

-Walnut recipe ideas: Sprinkle on salads or add to cereals; great as a snack; may be eaten (sparingly) before a meal to help control appetite. 

Click here for meatless Meatballs recipe. 

Click here for Cottage Cheese Loaf recipe.

Interesting Fact: One unusual way walnuts are used is picking them while they are still green and then pickling them! Please pass the pickles!

Caveat for Nuts and Seeds: Nuts can be allergens for some people. Allergic reactions to nuts can vary greatly from minor to life threatening. For this reason, food companies are required to note on the food label if their product may have come in contact with any nuts during processing.

*  "Lowering cholesterol. Eating macadamia nuts as part of a healthy diet seems to lower total and “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and to raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. But the changes aren’t huge. Men with high cholesterol who eat 17-37 nuts per day for four weeks can see their total cholesterol drop by about 3%, their LDL cholesterol drop by about 5%, and their HDL rise by about 8%."

Source: WebMD

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